In the last installment, I laid some ground work and began looking at how the Articles of Religion do address the language and theology of the United Methodist Church surrounding questions surrounding homosexuality. This is a continuation of what began there, so feel free to take a moment and give it a read if you have not.
In the first installment, we looked at how the verses in Leviticus related to the Articles of Religion, specifically Article VI. There is an interesting thing that goes on in Leviticus chapter 18 though. We looked specifically at verse 22 as one of several prohibited sexual actions in the particular section, but there is an oddity if we look to verse 21. For 20 verses we have prohibited sexual actions, then we get verse 21 about sacrificing children to Molech, then back to verse 22 and more sexual immorality. Some have speculated that because of this, verse 22 must then refer to cultic prostitution which was common in the time. On the surface that seems to make sense which would mean that the prohibition was linked to prostitution and idol worship and not a general prohibition.
The first thing we must understand is who was Molech? Molech was the fire God of the Ammonites that were in the promised land before God let the people of Israel there. Some of the details of Molech worship are disturbing, but necessary to understand for our purposes. Men and women dedicated as priests and priestesses to Molech (read prostitutes) would offer themselves for money, but only to members of the same sex. In fact, these ceremonies would be limited to single sex only. The men would have a ceremony, separate from the women, and vice versa. Children were then sacrificed to the ‘god’ in fire, or sometimes passed through the fire as a dedication to him as priests later in their lives. Animals, often dogs, were also offered for sexual pleasure of the celebrants, the price of which would go to the priests, while other proceeds went to the ‘god’. The argument goes that the prohibition here is only about idol worship which would mean then that same sex committed relationships would be ok.
All of that sounds convincing for a minute until you look at it in the context of the whole of scripture. When we get to chapter 20 of Leviticus, which is the section that deals with penalties for previously mentioned violations of the word of God we find a section that deals specifically with Molech worship (verses 3-5). In said section you see no mention of sex whatsoever. We also find a section dealing specifically with the punishments for sexual sin (verses 10-21). It is in this section that we find the penalty for the sin of two of the same gender engaging in sexual contact. Because of this, even if the order of verses in chapter 19 seems to indicate the prohibition may only be for cultic worship, chapter 20 makes clear by the divisions of topics that the prohibition was not limited to religious life, but a general prohibition against the activity under any circumstance. There is always a danger of taking a verse or two out of context, and claiming that the prohibition of same sex activities in Leviticus is limited to cult practices is such a time. Upon examination, the assertion that the verses in Leviticus are related to cultic prostitution do not hold up to scrutiny and are covered under Article VI.
From a consistency standpoint, the argument applied here that the prohibition was only for cultic practices, would lead us to some twisted and sick beliefs. If verse 22 only applies to cultic worship, then certainly verse 21 which deals specifically with sacrificing or dedicating children to Molech does as well. Should we then infer that it is ok to sacrifice children by fire so long as it is not to Molech? Of course not. It is understood here that this is a broad prohibition against sacrificing or consecrating children at anytime as the very act itself is sin. It is not sin because the sacrifice is to Molech, it is sin because a child is sacrificed. Would we say that sex with animals is acceptable so long as it is not in worship to Molech? Of course not. Again, this is seen as a broad prohibition. I see little reason to not apply the same consistency to sex between two of the same gender. The sex between those of the same gender during Molech worship is not sin because it’s worship of Molech, it is sin in general. Treating sex between two of the same gender differently than anything else in the surrounding verses makes little sense then, and does not show a consistently interpretive method to scripture. Again, this is confirmed by the passage in chapter 20.
As I mentioned, there is a danger with taking a couple of verses alone devoid of context. The whole of scripture in general, and, at the very least, the whole section of scripture that one is dealing with, must be considered. If one tries to say that sex between two of the same gender is only a cultural prohibition, they need to ignore the context that the prohibition is in. The other prohibitions in the area are not thought of as cultural to the Jews, so why should this prohibition be thought that way? If one tries to say that the prohibition is only related to cultic worship, then not only does the rest of the section of scripture it is found in need to be ignored, as the context of this section is sexual sin, they need to ignore the other prohibitions that apply here on child sacrifice and sexual relations with animals. The point here is that there is no way to separate these verses from their context and still maintain any sort of consistent approach to scripture. Because of this, their place as moral commands by God stands, thus they are indeed covered in the Articles of Religion.
Inevitably something about different interpretations will come up. First understand that just because someone has a different interpretation does not automatically make it valid or make it’s methodology good. I could interpret the worship of Molech as referring to a love of modern Disney movies. That doesn’t mean it is consistent or valid. The interpretations that present sex between two of the same gender as anything other than sin are not consistent in the approach that they take. They artificially separate the verses out of their context and then treat then differently than the other verses that surround them. This is generally a poor interpretive method. Despite what some may say, matters of sexual morality are addressed in the articles of religion, and as such, do strike at the root of Methodism.
Coming next a look at some of the New Testament verses that deal with the topic in the light of United Methodist Church standards of faith. This continues here.